*SPOILERS AHEAD … AND PEOPLE WHO ARE RATHER TOO INTIMATELY ENGAGED WITH THEIR GARBAGE*
This is an apocalyptically Dickensian tales of two episodes.
One, “New Best Friends”, played reasonably strongly to The Walking Dead‘s strengths, giving us an interesting character study of how far study of how far Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) has come, along with utterly changed relationship with Rick (Andrew Lincoln), while living up to the promise to introduce us yet another community, The Scavengers, who have a rather unique living arrangements among the detritus of civilisation. (You could argue ALL of humanity is living that way right now, but in this instance, it’s absolutely true.)
It was raw, real, tense and human and also included a gladiatorial duel to the death between Rick and an armoured zombie (naturally; what kind of Philistines do you take these new people for?) which ended in the leader of the Alexandrians, who SMILED at the end of the previous episode (yes … SMIIII-LLLLED – fancy that!) emerging triumphant and armed, subjects to guns being provided, with a garbage truck’s worth of new allies (maybe).
The other episode, “Hostiles and Calamities”, which wins the battle of the titles purely based on its Eugene-ismistic feel, was everything that’s wrong with The Walking Dead in season 7.
While it did grant an interesting look at whether Eugene has gone all Darth Vader on Alexandria and crossed to the Atari 2000 console-playing dark side, it was largely yet more empty, cruel, nasty, pointless posturing by Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) who is a one trick pony bad guy who’s pretty out of anything new or worthwhile to say.
Leaving aside the insanity of The Saviors cult-like compound and the inability of his serfs to realise they outnumber by a considerable margin – will you gang up on him and kill him already please? The ongoing narrative will thank you! – the episode achieved little and advanced the storyline not a jot.
Sure, Eugene could have crossed to the dark side, since he has always been a man out to protect his own hide at all costs but then just as easily he could be playing along, realising fairly quickly that resistance gets you repetitive bad pop music and a cell door, rather than Negan’s wives for company, popcorn and a comfy room.
Frankly though it was hard to care either way, with the episode largely sucking the life out of any tension it might have possessed, thanks mainly to Negan strumpeting around like a male peacock on heat, sucking all the melodramatic air away from everyone else.
Everything “New Best Friends” had in spades – how else are you going to dig yourself a cosy home in the refuse hills? – “Hostiles and Calamities” lacked and in noticeable quantities.
Let’s ponder Carol’s (Melissa McBride) reunification with Daryl (Norman Reedus) who figured out that his closest friend in the world was living a short stroll from the Kingdom, where Daryl has been hiding, the better to avoid Negan’s melodramatic posturing (and yeah the threat of a gruesome death; that too), and went to meet her.
The scene was supremely touching with Carol melting at the sight of Daryl, one of the few people, perhaps the only one now, with whom she can truly let down her guard and be herself.
Having been through a myriad of transformative changes over the seasons from frightened victim of domestic violence to violent retributive warrior to penitent killer, Carol has a lot of baggage to carry around but then so does Daryl so their pairing, their friendship, makes perfect sense.
While there are a lot of fans who would like to ‘ship the hell out of these two, I think they would best as mutually-supportive friends, who have seen the worst of humanity and the broken world around them, but who have seen the best in each other and truly value it.
It was a simple, unadorned scene that took place over dinner and a chat but it spoke volumes about the humanity that has underpinned the very best episodes of The Walking Dead.
So too did Rick, Michonne (Danai Gurira) et. al’s meeting with The Scavengers who live in a gigantic rubbish dump, dress in gothic black and talk like a weird, b-grade troupe of medieval actors.
While there was a lot of posturing and just plain silliness at times, there was also some real, palpable tension, not only when Rick was forced to play Zombie Gladiator, everyone’s favourite apocalyptic reality show, but when the sheer numbers of the Scavengers and their brutal adherence to realpolitik offered the very possibility of Rick’s gaining the people he needs for a reasonably-sized army and a chance to wipe away Negan from the face of the earth.
And honestly, after another episode where all Negan did was cajole, brutalise and ponce around like an under-qualified corporate underling throwing his non-existent weight around, you could well argue that Rick-initiated oblivion can’t come soon enough.
It’s been noted that Negan is an example of how the comic book characters don’t translate well to TV, and all “Hostiles and Calamities” achieved was to demonstrate once again how threadbare Negan’s bad guy wardrobe is, and how little he has to offer the storyline.
Where the Governor (David Morrissey) has some nuance, and even the Terminators had a philosophy to support their cannibalistic ways, Negan has nothing but a barbed-wire bat, barbaric cruelty and a hefty underarm throw that has no trouble tossing rare and hard-to-come-by doctors into furnaces after low life collaborators (hello Dwight (Austin Amelio) !) have set them up to take the fall for Daryl’s departure (and that of Sherry (Christine Evangelista).
He has nothing else to offer, and if it wasn’t for Eugene’s possible, maybe, you never know do you, journey to the apocalypse Sith side, the episode would have been as hollow and pointless as Negan himself.
In fact in all honesty it was, and The Walking Dead, would do well to despatch him quickly and get back to the kind of touching, insightful, character-driven drama that has always served it far better than the torture porn with which it is currently, and damagingly, in love.
- Coming up next … “Say Yes” … sure but only if Negan’s nowhere to be seen OK?